Dowie the decider

Ham United 2 Cottee 80, Dowie 83 Southampton 1 Bishop 22 og A ttendance: 18,501
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The Independent Online
THEY played "I wish it could be Christmas every day" before kick- off at Upton Park yesterday, and for most of this game Southampton must have thought the feast day had, indeed, come early. Until 10 minutes from time, West Ham seemed to have made them a gift of three points, only to snatch it back with two goals in as many minutes.

Although it was the contrasting strike force of Tony Cottee and Iain Dowie who claimed the goals, both owed a good deal to substitutes brought on in the second half, as West Ham became increasingly desperate to reclaim a game that they had done their best to throw away.

Robbie Slater did particularly well to set up the equaliser, ferrying the ball all the way from his own byline to Michael Hughes on the left wing at the other end of the pitch. Hughes measured his low cross, and Cottee met it at the near post to flash his shot past Dave Beasant.

Southampton had hardly got over that when another late-comer to the action, Tim Breacker, put in a centre from the opposite wing. Cottee missed it but wrong-footed the defence in the process, and Dowie finished the job against his old club.

Without that late flurry, it would have been a case of the Saints nicking it. They achieved the difficult feat of taking the lead without having a shot on goal, the only threat coming when Marc Rieper sent the ball past his own post for a corner from which Matthew Le Tissier, relieved of the captaincy in an effort to regain form, curled the ball in via a co-operative Hammers head.

For a while, it seemed that the sequence of events was doubly grim for Rieper, when he was unofficially credited for the own-goal. Soon, however, it transpired that Ian Bishop was the culprit.

He and his team-mates were then guilty, until that table-turning final spell, of failing to put matters right, although fine saves by Beasant from Dowie and Julian Dicks were needed to keep the Hammers at bay.